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Can Laughter and Happiness improve your health?

Don’t worry about the laughter lines on your face; research suggests laughing is good for your health. In any case laughter lines are easier to treat than crease wrinkles on a furrowed brow and a happy face is, after all, a beautiful face. But is it true that a positive and upbeat attitude can contribute to improved health and wellbeing or is this all Hocus Pocus?

Well, there are certainly plenty of studies that support this hypothesis. One, in particular, has shown a 25% increased risk of dying before the age of 65 of those who always expect the worst – maybe they were right to expect the worst as they died early. And here’s the problem. How do we attribute cause and effect here? Conventional drugs companies are reluctant to admit any link between your emotional state and your health and wellbeing and so don’t support research in this area. This is completely understandable as it’s extremely difficult to synthesis happiness and provide that on a prescription. Supporting that idea is therefore never going to deliver a healthy profit for them.

Studies conducted in the 80s and 90s however, revealed that your brain and immune system are connected through neurotransmitters. Recent research has also suggested that the health of your gut has a greater influence on your overall health than previously thought, particularly our psychological health and moods. Your stomach has a network of neurons, similar to your brain, that line the stomach. This network has been called “the little brain” and while it might not be responsible contemplating algebra or the daily crossword it is now thought to be linked to the brain in your scull though the vagus nerves, which influence your emotional state. Maybe a good belly laugh from time to time can be very beneficial to your health.

But is it really so strange to consider that a positive and upbeat attitude can affect your health? It’s commonly accepted that high levels of stress can have a detrimental effect. Stress doesn’t just increase your blood pressure, its also been shown to weaken your immune system and might even reactivate latent viruses your body once fought off. Other studies have also shown that raised levels of stress increase levels of C-reactive protein – a marker for inflammation in your body. Low-level inflammation is associated with a whole host of chronic diseases. All this suggests that by simply being happy and lowering your stress levels you’re going to be much healthier.

So how do you become happier? Drugs and alcohol might make you happy for a short while, but once your hangover kicks in you’re probably going to be feeling worse than you did originally. One way could be to join a laughter club or laughter yoga. Dr Madan Kataria was so convinced of the psychological and physiological benefits of laughter he established Laughter Yoga. This incorporates a series of exercises that enable you to laugh without the need for jokes or humour. It’s certainly become extremely popular. Since starting in Mumbai in 1995 it has spread to over 60 countries and more than 6000 Yoga clubs.

This is all very well but being happy can be extremely difficult if you’re not feeling particularly fit and well. Again we have the question of what is the cause and what is the effect. Do you need to be fit and well to be happy or do you need to be happy to be fit and well? The right approach is probably to be both happy and fit and well. The following strategies are my suggestions for maintaining good health:

  1. Exercise regularly
  2. Give thanks and be grateful for what you do have
  3. Drink plenty of pure water
  4. Avoid sugars
  5. Avoid simple carbohydrates
  6. Avoid too many news reports
  7. Ingest healthy fats – Omega 3 and mono-saturated fats
  8. Eat unprocessed whole foods – ideally organic
  9. Ensure raw food is a significant part of your diet
  10. Limit your exposure to toxins
  11. Get enough quality sleep
  12. Laugh more
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